“Well, it could be worse” is something we hear quite often. Maybe we even say this ourselves to the people around us! While it seems innocent enough, subtle sayings like this can actually be damaging to ourselves and those around us. “It could be worse” and “let it go” are just a couple examples of psychological invalidation. To better explore what this is and how to remedy it, in this article, we’ll be looking at nine sayings you should avoid.
But First, What Is Psychological Invalidation?
When we invalidate someone psychologically, whether intentional or not, we essentially minimize another person’s thoughts and perceptions about an experience; telling them that they shouldn’t feel a certain way or that their judgement is wrong. It is surprisingly common, to the point that we may do this ourselves without realizing it. For the person experiencing this invalidation, they may be unable to trust their own judgment in situations, feel wrong for feeling a certain way, and blame themselves for their actions (Long 2020).
With that, here are nine different psychological invalidating statements to avoid. Please note that context is important in any scenario and that these sayings are not a one size fits all situation. In general, finding ways to support and empathize with someone who is struggling is the most important takeaway.
1. Could Be Worse!
When you tell someone that their situation could be worse, it minimizes what they are going through. That other people are in worse situations so you shouldn’t feel bad about a situation you’re in. This often doesn’t help someone feel better as it does nothing to help their current situation. Instead, it is better to offer your support and empathy in these situations. Letting a person know that their feelings are valid and offering your comfort in times of need is a much better option.
2. It Wasn’t That Bad!
Similar to saying “it could be worse,” telling someone that their experience isn’t “that bad” is not helpful either. It directly implies that your feelings don’t matter and that your perception is incorrect. When the circumstances are especially serious, it can be dangerous. Minimizing a person’s experience and telling them that they are wrong can make someone feel insecure and crazy; they don’t know if they can trust their own judgement. Instead of telling someone that their experience “wasn’t that bad,” it’s better to talk to them about what it was and offer your help to them.
3. Let It Go!
While Frozen has an entire song about it, this saying can be negative to say to someone. It doesn’t provide any consolation for the issue at hand and works to further criticize someone’s judgement. It essentially is telling someone that their judgement about a situation is wrong and that they shouldn’t focus on it anymore. When applied to dire situations, this saying can be especially hurtful. Saying “let it go” doesn’t provide comfort to the person that needs support. Instead, try to find ways to let the person know that their thoughts are valid and provide them empathy when they need it the most.
4. You Probably Didn’t Understand…
Telling someone that they misunderstood a situation, especially if you weren’t there when it happened, can be insulting. This saying minimizes the other’s intelligence and critiques their judgement. It’s better to ask questions about the situation and work out a solution from there. Making assumptions about the situation can be hurtful to another and make them feel that they’re incapable of assessing a situation properly.
5. Stop Thinking About It
If only it were easy to stop thinking about something. Telling someone this fails to acknowledge the problem at hand. It doesn’t offer any comfort or support to what they are dealing with which is not helpful. Instead, try asking about why they are caught up in a certain thought? What do they need to feel better? What is bothering them?
6. We’re Not Talking About This
When you tell someone this, especially if they come to you about a specific problem, it doesn’t offer any discussion about a solution. While it’s difficult to navigate through conflict, it is important to address issues in a constructive manner. While you don’t necessarily have to agree with everyone’s viewpoints, you should at least let them be able to make their points and be able to calmly address them.
7. I Told You So
While it very well may be tempting to say this, it often fails to provide a supportive environment to someone who needs it. People make mistakes and have their own failures. It is important rather to be there for them in this time of need instead of reminding them that they’re wrong. Try instead to discuss what it was that happened in a calm, constructive environment.
8. You Are Too Sensitive
Again, telling someone their judgment is wrong is not helpful to them. It avoids responsibility and puts the blame on them for handling a situation. Everyone interprets and copes with situations differently so it’s important to recognize this and work with them with their feelings. Talking with someone through their emotions and why they feel such a way will be beneficial for their well being. Find ways to empathize with them and their situation will help them feel valid in their thoughts.
9. I Know What You’re Going Through
While this may seem like something you should say to someone who’s struggling, it can actually be harmful. Telling someone you know how they feel based on a personal experience takes away from their perspective. How do you know what they’re feeling? Especially if the situation isn’t the same? People internalize situations differently from one to another. It is important instead to ask about how they are feeling. Ask what they are going through and how you can help them.
These sayings are surprisingly common. Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself saying at least one of these before unintentionally. What’s important is to respond with empathy and compassion when someone is in need. Validating someone’s thoughts and feelings can be just as easy as the opposite and often takes putting yourself in another’s shoes. What are your thoughts about invalidation? What are some other sayings we should avoid? Are there other ways to help people feel more comfortable? Let us know in the comments!
- Fancher, C. (2020a, February 5). 5 Ways we unintentionally invalidate others. BHC. bhcwausau.com/2020/02/5-ways-we-unintentionally-invalidate-others/
- Long, J. (2020, May 22). What is Invalidation? 5 Things You Shouldn’t Say. Dr. Jamie Long, Fort Lauderdale Psychologist. drjamielong.com/validation-5-things-not-to-say/
- Ly, V. (2013, September 3). 7 Things You Should Never Say to Someone. Lifehack. www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/7-things-you-should-never-say-someone.html
- Martin, S. (2020, May 5). Emotional Invalidation: A Form of Emotional Abuse. Live Well with Sharon Martin. livewellwithsharonmartin.com/emotional-invalidation-emotional-abuse/